Education: Government plans to reduce Year 4-8 teacher-to-student ratio by one student

The Government plans to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio in Years 4-8 by one student by the start of 2025.

That would bring the ratio down to one teacher to every 28 students, which would still be the highest teacher-to-student ratio of all year bands and above what was recommended in a recent report. The reduction is expected to cost $106 million over five years.

A ministerial advisory group is also being set up to look at class sizes over the long term and understand the key areas where change is most needed. 

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said this group will look at the challenges faced in the classroom by teachers and students, what further class size decreases will cost and whether it's achievable.

"This group will be made up of experts from the education sector who understand how schools work, including school funding mechanisms and the staffing entitlement part of the school resourcing system," she said.

The immediate focus is on Years 4-8 which Tinetti said is a critical period for children as research shows this is often where maths and literacy achievement can begin falling behind.

Tinetti explained she is "not happy with the downward trends" observed across maths, reading and writing achievement and believes more teachers "targeted to where they are most needed" will help improve results. 

She said reducing the number of students in each class would ease pressure on teachers and allow for more one-on-one time with each student. 

"By the beginning of 2025, class ratios for years 4 to 8 will move from 1:29 to 1:28 – which will mean a lot in the classroom with an extra 320 full-time teachers in primary and Intermediate schools around the country. Half of these teachers will be in classrooms from next year."

The minister said the Government's taken several steps to attract and retain teachers, including increasing the average teacher's salary package by 18 percent. She said the number of teachers in primary and intermediate has risen by more than 3000.

"The Government has also been very focused on supporting teacher recruitment, including the investment last year of an additional $24 million to train and attract 1000 more teachers," Tinetti said.

"Since September last year, 478 people have been offered teaching scholarships, of which 290 were career-change scholarships, we have supported 124 beginning and returning teachers into roles through the BeTTER Programme, and all qualified teachers are on the Accredited Employer Work Visa Green List, with over 758 visas already issued and 302 teachers already here."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti
Education Minister Jan Tinetti Photo credit: Getty Images.

Teacher-to-student ratios are used to help calculate the amount of funding schools are entitled to for staffing.

Currently, for Years 4-8, the ratio is 1:29. That's the highest of all ratios, with Year 1, for example, being 1:15, and Years 2-3 being 1:23.

The number of students in a classroom in any individual school may not necessarily match the ratio as it's up to schools to make decisions about actual class sizes. Schools with smaller rolls may already be operating ratios less than 1:28 for Years 4-8 and will therefore see no difference from the changes.

The planned ratio of 1:28 is still higher than what was recommended in a report commissioned by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) in 2021. Led by former Education Minister Steve Maharey, it suggested progressively lowering ratios over the coming decade. By 2025, it recommended a ratio of 1:25 for Years 4-8, and for that to be at 1:23 by 2030.

The drop in student achievement between Years 4 and 8 is shown by the results of the 2019 National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement.

It found 63 percent of Year 4 students met curriculum expectations for writing, compared to just 35 percent Year 8 students. In reading, 63 percent of Year 4 students met expectations compared to 56 percent of Year 8 students. In 2018, for maths and statistics, 81 percent of Year 4 met expectations, compared with 45 percent of Year 8 students. 

The National Party last month unveiled an education policy focused on the "basics"

It included rewriting the curriculum with clear expectations of what is taught across reading, writing, maths and science at every year level, rather than in bands of year levels. Primary and intermediate students would also be required to do an hour of reading, an hour of writing and an hour of maths every day.

In its response to the policy, NZEI President Mark Potter said National hadn't addressed the "key problem primary schools have".

"That problem is the lack of proper support to help learners with higher needs. Schools are understaffed and teachers and principals are overstretched."

Class sizes have also been raised during the recent teacher strikes.